Friday, February 25, 2011

CHEESEBURGERS BY CANDLELIGHT

I was cooking cheeseburgers Friday night at about 7:45. They were nearly done, sizzling nicely, and the lightly buttered buns were lying face down in another pan, toasting to golden perfection.

I opened the refrigerator door and reached in to grab the mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard and cheese. Suddenly, everything went black.

“Oh, great!” my husband’s voice came his recliner. “What a time to have a power failure!”

At least he was safely sitting in his chair. I was bent over with my head in the refrigerator.

I felt my way across the kitchen to the cupboard where I keep a stash of scented candles. I took them out, one by one, then felt my way back to the drawer where I keep the matches. I began to light the candles – lemon scented, bayberry scented, pine scented, sea-breeze scented – and then plunked them down on the counter, kitchen island and table. I also handed one to my husband, which he put on the end table next to his chair.

I soon discovered that scented candles smell really nice…if you burn only one at a time. Burning them all at once, however, was a different story. The combination of scents filled the house with one giant scent that smelled like a combination of skunk oil and roses.

I managed to dig up a pocket flashlight, then rushed back to the stove. Our gas stove remains lit during power failures, which usually is a good thing, but not when you’re distracted and trying to light a half-dozen candles.

The worst part was I really couldn’t tell if I’d burned the burgers or not because the flashlight was about as powerful as opening the blinds and using the moonlight.

But even in the dark I could tell that the hamburger buns were long beyond done. When I touched them, they felt like tree bark. I aimed the flashlight at them – they were about 20 shades darker than the golden brown I’d hoped for. Frantically, I grabbed a butter knife and began to scrape off all the black parts (at least the ones I could see), which wasn’t easy while holding a flashlight between my teeth.

Putting the condiments on the burgers also was a challenge. I like just the right amount of ketchup and mustard on mine. My husband likes ketchup and mayonnaise. As the flashlight grew dimmer, not only couldn’t I tell how much of anything I was putting on the burgers, I had no idea what I was putting on them. For all I knew, I could have accidentally grabbed a jar of almost anything in the refrigerator and was slathering it on the burgers.

“Is there any Pepsi in the fridge?” my husband asked.

“There might be,” I said. “But there are a lot of bottles in there that might look alike by candlelight. Just don’t chug down the bottle of vinegar by accident.”

“Never mind,” he said. “I think I’ll just have a glass of water.”

He, carrying a lilac-scented candle in a jar, slowly made his way out to the kitchen, which wasn’t easy, considering he had two frightened rottweilers clinging to his legs. He located a glass in the cupboard, then held it under the kitchen faucet, turned the handle and waited.

I tried not to laugh. In our previous home, we had water even when the power went out. At our new one we have an artesian well with an electric pump. So no power, no water.

“You’ll be standing there a long time if you want water,” I told him. “It might be faster if you go outside, fill the glass with snow and wait for it to melt.”

Not only did the realization he wasn’t going to get a glass of water strike him, so did another more disturbing fact. “No toilet or shower?” he gasped.

“’Fraid not,” I said, handing him a paper plate with his dried-up cheeseburger with maybe ketchup and mayo on it, or maybe mustard and mayo…or maybe something else.

When I bit into my burger, I honestly thought I’d accidentally put the dish-scrubbing pad into the bun. It was dry, chewy and tasteless. The bun was hard and crisp. And I’d practically drowned the meat in ketchup, which probably was a good thing because it provided the only moisture on what otherwise could have been described as a chunk of compressed sawdust.

I was just about to apologize to my husband for the fiasco of a meal when I heard him say, “Mmmmm, this is good! One of the best cheeseburgers I’ve ever had! It has a different flavor to it that really makes it!”

The “different flavor” part concerned me. I immediately wondered what I’d put on his burger. The old bacon drippings in a jar I’d been meaning to toss out? A slice of aged (make that ancient) cheddar cheese instead of his favorite American cheese? Yogurt? Alpo?

I guess I’ll never know, which probably is for the best. And if my husband wants me to ever duplicate the recipe again, he’ll just have to wait for another power failure.

Or, I suppose I could always wear a blindfold.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I SHOULD HAVE HIDDEN IN THE BARREL

One bad thing about living on a private road is the town doesn’t pick up my trash. And believe me, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making trash.

The first time I made the 8-mile trip to the town dump, I was overwhelmed. For one thing, there was a long line of vehicles waiting to get in. Then, once I got into the place, I was surrounded by huge dumpsters all labeled for different items. By the time I figured out which trash to dump where, my car had fully absorbed the haunting aroma of “eau de garbage” that had leaked out of one of the bags in my back seat. I had to buy three of those little pine-tree deodorizers to kill the smell.

The next day, I called a bunch of trash-removal companies to see if I could find one that would make the trip up to the boonies to pick up my trash. I finally found one – one of the largest companies in the world.

And every Friday morning since then, for over a year now, between 7:30 and 8 a.m., the truck arrives and hauls away my trash. And every three months like clockwork, I receive a bill.

Our driveway is over 400 feet long, so taking the trash out to the road is no easy chore. My initial plan was to drive the trash barrels out to the road, but I couldn’t lift them into the hatchback of my car. So I bought barrels on wheels, and now I drag them down the driveway every Friday morning at 7, rain or shine, heat wave or cold snap. I did try putting out the barrels the night before, figuring their snap-on lids would prevent scavengers from getting into them and making a mess, but once again I’d figured wrong.

The good thing about living in the woods is there are no neighbors to see what I look like when I take out the trash early in the morning. My mirror has assured me it’s not a pretty sight. Usually I throw on a coat (or in the summer, a robe) over my pajamas or nightgown, have my hair in curlers, no makeup, and no partial denture, which is still sitting in a cup in the cabinet.

Fortunately, the only living thing that has caught me looking that way (aside from my poor husband), is a squirrel…and to this day, I think it’s still suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Last Friday morning, I was a little late taking the trash out to the road. Instead of 7 a.m., it was 7:30 by the time I headed outside. The minute I stepped out the door I stopped dead. I could have sworn I heard a truck’s engine running.

Our house isn’t visible from the road, so I hid behind a tree and peeked around it. There, sitting at the end of the driveway…waiting…was the garbage truck.

I quickly ducked back behind the tree and wondered what I should do. If I took the barrels down to the truck, my appearance probably would scare the workers into never returning. Yet, if I took the time to go back inside, get dressed, put on makeup, and do whatever else it would take to make myself look human, the truck would be in the next county.

So I decided to compromise and go halfway. I dashed into the house, shoved on my bra and shoved in my teeth. Then I yanked the curlers out of my hair (along with half of my hair), ran a brush through the snarls and headed back outside. The truck was still sitting there.

My leg is still in a brace due to a torn ligament, so there I was, dragging two trash barrels behind me as I gimped toward the truck. While I struggled to cover the 400 feet as quickly as possible, I felt my hair flying outward on both sides as the cold, dry air attacked it with static. I imagined the guy in the truck wondering what on earth was coming toward him…a lame old witch?

An old joke crossed my mind as I continued to hobble toward the truck. In it, a lady is running after a garbage truck and shouting, “Wait! Do you have room for any more trash?” To which the driver responds, “Sure! Hop in!”

Finally, when I was about 15 feet from the truck, a guy jumped out and said, “Here, let me help you with that.”

He grabbed both barrels and dumped their contents into the truck as I tried to catch my breath and hide my naked, non-made-up face. I am so pale without makeup, my face actually becomes invisible against the snow.

“Are you OK?” the guy asked after he set the empty barrels down in front of me. The concerned expression on his face told me I probably didn’t look exactly glowing and radiant in the morning sun.

Before I could answer, he said, “Wait a minute, I have something for you. Let me get it.”

Puzzled, I watched as he climbed back into the truck. He returned holding a card. “It’s a discount card for prescription medication,” he explained, handing it to me. “You can save up to 60 percent on prescriptions at hundreds of area pharmacies.”

For once, I was momentarily speechless. I took the card and thanked him, then watched him drive off.

Later that day, when I told my husband what had happened, he burst out laughing. “The guy must have thought you looked pretty bad if he gave you a card for medication!”

There I was, thinking it was a really nice gesture, and my husband had to go and ruin it for me. He made me feel as if the guy in the truck had thought I looked so bad, I should have been out shopping for a headstone.

Next week, I’m going to wear a dress, high heels, makeup, earrings, control-top pantyhose, have my hair done, maybe get a facelift and then take out the trash…and I’m going to stand there until the truck comes.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

TAX TIME IS HEADACHE TIME

I sat down the other night to do my income taxes using one of those computer tax programs that walks you through your tax preparation step by step. The program I purchased made it sound as if following the instructions was so simple, kindergarten students could use it to prepare their parents’ taxes.

Armed with a stack of receipts, I opened the program on my computer and began to fill in the basics such as name, address and date of birth. “This is going to be a snap,” I told myself, smiling and feeling confident.

Things did go along pretty smoothly…until I came to the section about home offices and itemized deductions. Suddenly the questions became a little more complicated.

First of all, the program asked about our house. How many rooms? How many square feet of living area? How many square feet in the office? I just sat there and stared at the screen.

“When you count how many rooms this house has,” I shouted to my husband, who was watching TV, “do you count the breezeway, laundry room and bathrooms?”

“I don’t think so,” he said. “Although the size of your walk-in closet probably could qualify as a room.”

The next thing I knew, I was on my hands and knees on my office floor, struggling with a tape measure. I wasn’t about to measure the entire house to get the square footage, however, so I set out to find the blueprints, which I knew were somewhere in the basement. Two hours and 20 spider carcasses later, I found the blueprints in the bottom of a bag that was full of old posters…along with two more spider carcasses.

Next, the program asked how much we’d spent on the town portion of our automobile taxes. I knew the amount would be listed on our registrations…out in our cars. The temperature just happened to be 12 below zero that night, and the meteorologist on the 6:00 news had mentioned that exposed skin could freeze within two minutes, but I figured I’d just do a quick dash and grab, so I didn’t need a coat.

I found my car’s registration right away, but after searching through the glove compartment in my husband’s van until my eyeballs started to freeze, I headed back into the house.

“Where’s the registration for your van?” I shouted at him from the doorway.

“Over the visor!” he shouted back.

After retrieving both registrations, I was less than pleased to discover I’d nearly frozen off essential body parts for a grand total of $123.

The tax program then wanted to know if I had donated anything to charity during the past year. I had to laugh. When I cleaned out our old house to sell it, I took over 30 bags of clothes and household items to Goodwill. One bag alone had over 70 of my husband’s neckties in it, some dating so far back, they were wide enough to double as lobster bibs.

The program offered a chart that estimated what each item was worth – so much for coats, so much for shoes, so much for blenders, etc. I took one look at the chart and decided that unless I wanted to spend the next three months working on my taxes, I’d just forget about the bags of stuff I took to Goodwill. I was eager to get my taxes done as swiftly as possible so I could get my greedy little paws on my refund…that is, providing I was going to get a refund. The burning desire to find out motivated me to continue.

I noticed a deduction for hobbies that caught my attention, mainly because my husband and I have a variety of hobbies. I clicked on the deduction to see what hobbies qualified, and it listed breeding, training and showing race horses. I found myself wondering if I threw a couple saddles on my rottweilers if they would qualify (in food consumption alone, they probably would).

I also noticed a homebuyer’s credit for up to $8,000 for people who recently either bought or built a house. My eyebrows rose. We’d built a house! I clicked onto the information and it said we could qualify if we’d moved into the house after December 31, 2009.

We moved into our house on November 20, 2009.

Then there was a section on gambling deductions that made me wonder if the numerous painful losses I’d suffered buying lottery scratch-tickets could be deducted. I discovered they couldn’t unless I’d won a large amount of money on them, then I could deduct what I’d paid for them. I chuckled. The odds of me winning a large amount of money on scratch tickets were about the same as the odds I’d be chosen to be on the next cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

After I spent nearly four hours itemizing my deductions, the program informed me that my total didn’t equal the percentage needed and I would be better off taking the standard deduction. At that point, the tax-program’s disk very nearly became a new Frisbee for my dogs.

The sun was rising by the time I finally finished my taxes. By then, I felt as if I’d just run a marathon in high heels. But the fact we were going to get back a refund of nearly $2,000 made all of my suffering worth it. I smiled with satisfaction as I hit the e-file button. My tax forms would be zipped off electronically to the IRS and I’d have my refund in a flash.

That’s when an error notice popped up saying I couldn’t file until some new, updated tax form came out, probably at the end of February, and they would notify me by e-mail when it was available.

My dogs really are enjoying their new Frisbee.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

THE BONUS GIFT GAVE ME STRESS

The last time I had my income taxes done at one of those places that does taxes, all the woman did was sit there and read questions to me from a computer screen. She charged me $350.

I remember thinking, after I was revived from fainting over the price, that I probably should buy one of those computer tax programs similar to the one the woman had used, and do my taxes myself. I figured I had enough intelligence to answer a few questions on my computer screen…and I could save myself a bundle of money.

Well, a couple weeks ago, it just so happened that one of the big electronics stores advertised a sale on income-tax computer programs. To make the sale even more inviting, the store also was giving away a free DVD movie with each program sold. So I headed over to check out the sale.

I selected my tax program, which cost under $50, then asked one of the clerks which free DVD came with it. I figured it would be something pretty obscure, like “1001 Elvis Impersonators Unleashed,” but to my surprise, the clerk said, “Pick out any DVD we have in stock…as long as it’s under $20.”

The store must have had 10,000 movies. I immediately felt panicky. How on earth was I going to pick just one?

I searched through acres of Mel Gibson movies, Tom Cruise movies, Sylvester Stallone movies and John Travolta movies. I studied the covers of concert movies of every band from Abba to Frank Zappa. An hour passed, and still I hadn’t selected a free movie. It was sheer torture.

That’s when I recalled my husband recently mentioning some new movie starring Angelina Jolie he really wanted to see. I couldn’t remember the exact title of the film, only that it had something to do with cooking.

I managed to track down another clerk. “Do you have that new Angelina Jolie movie?” I asked him. “The title has something to do with cooking, I think.”

He just stared blankly at me.

Then I remembered something else my husband had mentioned about it. “I think she plays a spy in it.”

A look of realization suddenly crossed the clerk’s face. “Oh, you must mean ‘Salt,’” he said, smiling. “It’s right over there on the end cap.”

As I headed back toward the DVDs, the clerk called out to me, “By the way, Salt is her name in the movie, not a condiment!”

As it turned out, the movie was $19.99, so Angelina fell within the “free DVD” range by the skin of her pearly-white teeth. I breathed a sigh of relief. When I brought “Salt” home and handed it to my husband, he was thrilled…perhaps a little too much so.

That’s when I started thinking that maybe I should have selected a “Shrek” movie instead. I mean, I’d rather have my husband staring at a giant green ogre for two hours than at a sexy, shapely, pouty-lipped vixen who probably would be wearing very little and doing a lot of running in the movie…and not one of her body parts would be bouncing.

The free movie obviously turned out to be everything my husband had hoped it would be…endless scenes of Angelina sprinting, jumping, climbing, karate chopping, dangling by her heels and blowing up things. His eyeballs practically bulged out of their sockets as he stared, seemingly hypnotized, at the screen.

I thought I heard one of the dogs panting while my husband was watching the movie, but now that I think about it, I’m not certain if it was the dog or my husband. Had he agreed to wear the heart monitor his doctor had tried to talk him into wearing just a few days before, the paramedics probably would have been breaking down our door.

Immediately after my husband finished watching the DVD, I sold it on eBay for a high bid of $7.25.

The next night, I gathered all of my paperwork, sat down in front of my computer and started to use the tax program.

How did I make out?

If I’m not being audited, I’ll tell you all about it next week.